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What is a Clapperboard and How to Use One

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/1/2011

The clapperboard, an iconic image of golden age Hollywood, still can be useful in today's digital video filmmaking.

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    Big Movie Chaos

    Large-scale film production can be an absolute mess once you get in the editing room. There are so many takes for all of the scenes, the audio is often separate from the video, and it is difficult to make heads or tails of the different clips. A way that the film industry has traditionally remedied this is with the clapperboard.

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    The clapperboard originally had two main functions for the film production. The first thing it did was provide vital information about the scene at its very beginning. The clapperboard would have the scene name, the take number, and any other vital information on it that would help identify this particular video clip from all the others. The second function it had was to give an audio synchronization point for the editor. If the audio and the video were not matched up perfectly you could clap together the two-hinged pieces of the board, and then the editor could line up the clap sound with the actual motion. This was done at the very beginning of the scene so that it could be easily lined up before being cut apart in the classic linear editing process.

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    The New Generation

    The classic clapperboard is a traditional film image today, with the black-and-white color scheme being synonymous in most people’s mind to Hollywood filmmaking. The early clapperboards just used the black interface with places for specific information to be put in. Today professional studios often used a clapperboard with a digital read out, mostly so the camera can pick it up easier. Since all the lighting in the room or location is on the blocked scene there often is no light to pick up the image of the clapperboard. With this in mind they started using the digital read out, or even glass, so that it can be seen better in the present light.

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    When using a clapperboard there is standard information that should be on it. It should always include the scene name and number, the precise take number, the director’s name, the day number, and the location. The rest of the information is up to you, and many director’s include other crew on there as well as production notes for the scene. This would come in handy if you were doing several sets of takes each for a different approach to the same scene.

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    Get Your Own

    The clapperboard is still an effective way to ensure audio accuracy and film organization. You can usually find a traditional one online for a variable price range, sometimes even fewer than ten dollars. The digital or specialty clappers run well over a hundred dollars and just are not worth the price to the average digital video consumer.